The Jesuit Missions of the Guarani as Urban System

Caterina Pizzigoni, Columbia University
Gergely Baics, Barnard College

This paper makes the case that before the Jesuits’ expulsion from Latin America, the thirty Guarani missions founded by them in present-day Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil, constituted the origins of a viable urban system of Indigenous dwellers. We pursue a comparative approach based on h-GIS to show this, specifically we created a dataset with locations and population size for mission settlements across the Americas during the 17th and 18th centuries. Drawing on these data, the unique spatial characteristics of the Guarani network of missions become evident. In no other region of mission activity, one finds a similarly dense and enduring network of mission towns, constituting what may be reasonably described as an urban system. The built environment of these missions was likewise distinguished by uniquely urban characteristics as evidenced by historical town plans and surviving archeological sites. In the paper’s first part, we present our spatial data and some georeferenced town plans to make our case. In the second part, we explain why, in our view, the Guarani missions and not others grew into the scale, scope, and form of a viable urban system.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 162. Connecting Urban Dynamics: Owners, Tenants, Spatial Narratives, and Built Environment